Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review (Or How I Might Just Like Kylo Ren)

By Jason Lisk

I went and saw Star Wars last night with my 12-year-old son. There would be no way for me to avoid spoilers or not want to see it as soon as possible. I know that film critics had already screened it, and begun writing reviews earlier this week. I avoided those with all my efforts. This wasn’t a case of “should I even bother to see this movie?” where I want to see what some people are saying to decide whether to invest my time. I was going to be seeing Star Wars in a theatre, as I had every other movie (I was too young for the original release in 1977 to remember, but saw it on re-release before Empire Strikes Back).

So if you have not seen it, I am giving you plenty of heads up. There will be some spoilers. I am not going to recap the entire movie, but will talk about some plot points and characters. #SpoilerAlert

So after a photo of one of the many NBA Star Wars things going on this week (this one from the New Orleans game), let’s get on to it.

So let’s talk Kylo Ren. When I left the theatre, I had to absorb what I had just seen. Is Kylo Ren one of the most devious movie villains? Or is he a sniveling brat, who is also at times incompetent? Or is it a little of both. Ren (played by Adam Driver)–and it doesn’t take long into the movie to find this out–is the son of Han Solo and Leia. He has turned to the Dark Side after training with his uncle, Luke Skywalker, who has disappeared (also, another fairly early reveal).

I suspect there will be no more divisive character in how he is immediately viewed than Kylo Ren. The final word on that will likely be hardened by what happens going forward in Episode VIII.

Ren gives off the hard villain vibe early, matching Darth Vader from the original trilogy. He seems to be quite ruthless and powerful, able to stop a shot from a blaster mid-air. But, unlike Vader, who would calmly choke someone that he found to be incompetent, Kylo Ren at times seems out of control, and not commanding of respect. He senses trouble with a particular stormtrooper, but does not address it. He (twice) presides over prisoners who escape under his supervision. He throws hilarious tantrums, destroying property with his light saber. But he does not exact ruthless punishment for the direct offenders of those escapes. He makes some tactical mistakes.

And, he takes his mask off in a scene while questioning Rey. This was a key moment in the film. My son hated that the bad guy took off the mask. I actually think it is necessary for the development of the character, who has many parallels to his grandfather, but also key differences. For large portions of the second half of the film, we see Kylo Ren’s young, unscarred face.

We see his face again, unmasked, in the sure-to-be-most-talked-about scene in the movie, when he kills his father, Han Solo. Again, this was a moment that my son and his friend hated (how do you kill the hero and an awesome character like Han Solo?). It was, for me, the most necessary moment in the movie.

Harrison Ford came back, more than 30 years after last playing Han Solo, and hit the notes perfectly. That can’t be easy to just recapture one character (yes, certainly a very notable one) that you played a thousand roles ago. He was still Han Solo, at times irreverent, at times incisive. He had chemistry and banter with both Rey and Finn. This wasn’t Kobe Bryant out there jacking up bad shots. But still, for this current incarnation of the films, Han Solo had to die. The other characters had to emerge and become compelling (which, they largely did).

Obi-Wan, after all, died at the hands of his pupil, Darth Vader, in the first film in the series. The parallels, while both were in the process of sabotaging the bad guys, end there. Obi-Wan did so consciously, taking on Darth Vader and harboring no illusions that he could change him, in order to facilitate the escape from the Death Star. Han Solo had already done what was necessary in that regard, and could have walked away mission accomplished, as he saw his son. He didn’t. Han thought he could save him. We even had hints that the young Solo might be conflicted about his choices, and might leave with his father.

And then, facing him without hiding behind his mask, after Han had warned him that Supreme Leader Snoke was using him and would discard him (another parallel to Palpatine and Anakin Skywalker), he stabbed his father with a light saber.

Kylo Ren has a chance to be an incredible villain going forward. I mean, let’s face it, we love to hate the villains that aren’t honorable. He feigned regret, then killed his own father in a cowardly fashion. That’s something that Darth Vader, for all his hard facade throughout the first trilogy, could not do to his son. Ren would fit right in on Game of Thrones.

If Ren proves to be a weak character in the next one, I’ll take it back. I think Kylo Ren might have a few surprises when it comes to just who ends up manipulating whom after killing his father, when it comes to Supreme Leader Snoke. Whereas Darth Vader was a foreboding, mysterious boogeyman for almost the entire trilogy, until he saves Luke Skywalker, Ren revealed his potential for humanity, only to destroy that image. We’ve seen his face, he made his choice, and that should be scarier.

Other quicker observations and notes after watching the film:

  • Plot? I’m not sure about the use of a third Death Star-type event. I know we go for parallels but maybe time to retire that one;
  • The more important thing is the characters. Unlike some of the key characters in Episode I and II, these characters were compelling. More of Rey. More of Poe and Finn.
  • The humor that involved characters was fine: the exchanges between Solo and Finn, for example. The storm troopers turning around when they approach the room where Kylo Renn is throwing a tantrum. On the other hand–and maybe I’m in the minority here–I could do without lots of other references that could be seen as homages to the original. (Faintly hearing the audio saying “they are splitting up” just like on the original Death Star for example). Of course, maybe that was just because of the dork a couple rows back who had to laugh loudly at everyone and point it out.
  • The character Captain Phasma (played by the same actress who plays Brienne of Tarth in Game of Thrones) was a complete disappointment structurally. It was one that was marketed ahead of time, so I guess Phasma is like the Greedo of this one, but with less memorability. It seems the only purpose of this character is to show up, get captured, and shut down the shields. Doesn’t seem very committed to the cause to shut down the shields and allow the whole plan to blow up planets to be foiled.

[images via Getty, USA Today Sports Images]